The (Mawr)velous Adventures of Esteniolla

"…we got so caught up in school being a tradition that we stopped using it as a learning tool…" –Tupac

My Friday Night: Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble

Friday, I had the pleasure of seeing the Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble as part of the Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series. Getting in was pretty stressful. Tickets to see the show had run out and my entire fun for Friday night with friends depended on a wait-list ticket (#705…seems high but really, I was the 20th person in line). At the moment when anticipation and anxiety over getting in couldn’t be any higher (the show was going to start in TWO min!), a Mawrter saved the day by offering me and my friends tickets that her and her friends decided not to use at the last minute (shout out to that Mawrter! I will personally thank you in Spanish Class!). My friends and I had gotten in. Although it was a bummer that we could not all sit together, I reclined in the first available seat I saw and prepared myself to be amazed by the Ukrainian dancers.

Thirty seconds into the opening dance, I soon realized that “amazed” was an understatement for what I was seeing before my eyes—I was immediately mesmerized. The female dancers were lavishly dressed in beautiful, shiny, multicolored traditional wear with pristine hair and make-up. The males complimented the females with matching colors and took me aback with their forceful, rhythmic steps and high kicks. Although the females were very pretty to look at, the athleticism of the males always caught my attention in each dance performance. Watching them fly across the stage with assorted flips, hearing them stomp out complicated cadences as if they were on a Morehouse step crew and trying to keep up with the blur of their feet was both exhilarating and exhausting (my neck was tired from trying to keep up).

However nothing—not the beautiful attire, high kicks or the charm between the male and female performers—could compare to how much I enjoyed hearing and watching the live band onstage. Between dance performances, the small band (consisting of a few strings, a clarinetist, flautist, and a percussionist) would have their moment to shine by entertaining the crowd with upbeat, folkloric songs. As a former clarinetist who majored in music and music performance in high school, I absolutely LOVED watching the interaction between members in the band. It was clear that music was their voice as they challenged each other, teased one another, and laughed with one another through their instruments. I especially loved the clarinetist (of course, I am bias!) because his animated, almost goofy, tone was so entertaining as it mocked the frantic sounds of the strings.

As a viewer, not a musician, I could not speak the language of the band but I appreciated feeling like I was a part of the conversation in the way that they interacted with each other and the crowd. Overall, this how I felt about the entire show. When the performers spoke their native language, or when Ukrainians in the audience (who knew when to yell out or clap rhythmically with the flying feet) would participate and I wouldn’t, I felt comfortable knowing that I did not have to understand the culture to appreciate it. I made meaning out of what I could understand—for instance, my music background allowed me to match what I was hearing with music terms while the stomping of the men reminded me of traditional dance in parts of Africa— so I enjoyed making personal and cross-cultural connections as I watched. Thus, I am thankful to Bryn Mawr (and, of course, my Spanish classmate!) for exposing me to, and making me feel part of, a culture I had never known before.